Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee is a wonderful picture book for younger readers to introduce them to a part of American history, particularly the relocation of Japanese Americans from their homes to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II.
“Shorty” was thus nicknamed because he was smaller than all of his classmates. He was always the last to picked for any team when they played games. Everything got worse when he began to be called names that he didn’t understand and nobody talked to him. His parents then pulled him out of school when it was time to move out of their house and into the horse stalls that was a temporary stop on their ultimate destination to a dusty and desolate barbed wired internment camp.
The longer they stayed there, the worse things got. The youth were becoming more and more despondent and disrespectful to their elders. Knowing that they needed a outlet, Shorty’s father decided that the camp would benefit from having a baseball field. Soon, there were baseball games going on all the time for both kids and grown-ups. Shorty played as well but this time around it wasn’t so bad because he was the same size as all of his other Japanese friends. But he didn’t like playing under the watchful eye of the gaurd in the security tower who seemed to scrutinize his every move under his dark sunglasses. Shorty got so mad that he was determined to show that guard exactly what he was made of. And he did! Hitting the ball hard he made it all the way to home base and onto the shoulders of his teammates.
But that didn’t make everything better. Eventually, Shorty and his family returned home to the same classmates who made fun of him before he left. He was both taunted and ignored. The book ends as Shorty is again playing baseball, but this time among his white peers. But he had gotten better during his time of playing baseball in the camps. Can he prove that he is just as good as his peers?
Ken Mochizuki does an excellent job showing why the Japanese were sent to internment camps, what life was like there, their attitudes towards themselves and their fellow Americans, as well as the difficult transition when they returned home. As always, the illustrations by Dom Lee are wonderful. Still mostly monochromatic, there is color in Baseball Saved Us, unlike most of Dom Lee’s other books. The illustrations inside the camp were more bleak in color and the illustrations outside the camp were more vibrant in color. A great comparison between the “outside world” and the camps.
Ken Mochizuki’s own parents were sent to internment camps during World War II. Coming up next is a great author interview where Ken talks about his parents experience and how that influenced his writing of Baseball Saved Us. Don’t miss it! Ken is also the author of Be Water, My Friend: The Early Years of Bruce Lee (reviewed here), Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story (reviewed here), Heroes, and the young adult novel Beacon Hill Boys.